By Tom Huddleston Jr.*
MacKenzie Bezos could soon be one of the wealthiest women in the world after she and husband Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO and the world’s richest person, announced their decision to divorce after 25 years of marriage.
The couple announced the decision in a joint statement that Jeff Bezos posted on Twitter on Wednesday morning. The decision to divorce comes after “a long period of loving exploration and trial separation,” the couple says in the statement.View image on Twitter
Any divorce settlement they reach could be one of the largest ever, considering Bezos’ massive wealth. Jeff Bezos boasts a net worth of roughly $137 billion, according to Bloomberg’s most recent estimate. CNBC Make It’s most recent look at Bezos’ assets reveals multimillion-dollar homes across the U.S. (including in Medina, Washington and Beverly Hills, California, each worth $25 million, according to WealthX). But, as of October, more than 90 percent of Bezos’ wealth was tied up in Amazon stock, of which he owns about 80 million shares.
Since Jeff and MacKenzie were married before he founded Amazon in 1994 — and because the laws in the state of Washington say that all assets acquired during a marriage can be split equally — it’s possible that MacKenzie could walk away from their divorce with half of her husband’s net worth, or about $66 billion, based on Amazon’s current value, CNBC reported today. (The world’s richest woman is currently Walmart heiress Alice Walton, whose net worth was $46 billion in 2018, according to Forbes.)
Whether or not Jeff and MacKenzie actually do split his fortune down the middle — a divorce attorney told CNBC’s Robert Frank that’s unlikely because so much of Bezos’ wealth is tied to him continuing to control his Amazon share, plus it is not clear if the couple has any sort of pre-nuptial agreement — their divorce still makes it likely that MacKenzie will soon have a substantial fortune of her own. (MacKenzie reportedly does not currently own any shares of Amazon.)
So who is MacKenzie Bezos?
MacKenzie grew up in San Francisco, where her father worked as a financial planner. She earned an English degree at Princeton University in 1992 (roughly six years after Jeff graduated from the same school), and she first met her future husband later that same year. She’d moved to New York City in search of a job and she met Jeff when he interviewed her for a job at the hedge fund where he was working, D.E. Shaw.
The two ended up with offices next to one another and MacKenzie soon became enamored with Bezos and his loud, distinctive laugh. “My office was next door to his, and all day long I listened to that fabulous laugh,” she told Vogue in a 2013 interview. “How could you not fall in love with that laugh?”
MacKenzie kicked things off with Bezos by asking him out to lunch and, after dating for only three months, they were engaged. Another three months later, they got married. That was 1993 and MacKenzie was only 23, while Jeff was 29.
Not long after, Jeff had the idea that would become Amazon.com. “I told my wife MacKenzie that I wanted to quit my job and go do this crazy thing that probably wouldn’t work since most startups don’t, and I wasn’t sure what would happen after that,” Jeff said in a 2010 address at his alma mater, Princeton.
MacKenzie told him to go for it and in 1994 the couple moved from New York to Seattle, with Jeff writing a business plan for his online bookstore on the cross-country drive. He launched the company out of their garage that summer.
When Vogue asked Jeff in 2013 about what drew him to MacKenzie, the billionaire listed a few of her attributes while also joking about the added insight he gained from interviewing her for a job. “I think my wife is resourceful, smart, brainy, and hot, but I had the good fortune of having seen her résumé before I met her, so I knew exactly what her SATs were,” he said.
While Jeff built Amazon into an e-commerce behemoth that briefly reached a $1 trillion valuation in 2018, MacKenzie rediscovered a passion for writing that she had developed in college, where she studied fiction under Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison. (Morrison told Voguethat MacKenzie was “one of the best students I’ve ever had in my creative-writing classes.”)
MacKenzie is the author of two novels: “The Testing of Luther Albright,” published in 2005, and 2013′s “Traps.” The New York Times called the first of those two novels, which won an American Book Award in 2006, a “quietly absorbing first novel” about “an emotionally repressed husband and father.” (Though Amazon has its own book publishing imprint, MacKenzie’s novels were published by Fourth Estate and Knopf, respectively. They are among the titles sold on Amazon.)
MacKenzie took roughly a decade to write her first book, she told Vogue in 2013, partially because she wanted to spend more time with her children (she gave birth to the first of the couple’s four children in 2000), which took time out of her writing schedule. In 2013, she said she had gone as far as renting a one-bedroom apartment near the Bezos’ Washington home where she could spend time writing uninterrupted.
In addition to her writing career, MacKenzie also founded the anti-bullying organization Bystander Revolution in 2014. She serves as executive director of the organization, which says it’s “ultimate goal is the discussion and spread of simple habits of kindness, courage, and inclusion.” The organization’s website aims to offer solutions to bullying along with suggestions for how the average person can defuse situations involving bullying.
The organization has worked with celebrities like Monica Lewinsky, actress Lily Collins, and NFL star Tom Brady to produce anti-bullying videos.
“A lot of the conventional wisdom about bullying is that it is a cultural norm that can’t be overcome,” MacKenzie said in 2015. “But there are so many small things an individual can do to help that have a huge impact.”
Meanwhile, in 2018, Jeff and MacKenzie announced their pledge to donate $2 billion to a new philanthropic fund that will go toward helping homeless families and funding preschools in underserved communities. The move followed criticism of Jeff Bezos for what had been a lack of philanthropic activities. And, while Jeff and MacKenzie are splitting up, their announcement still left room for them to work together in the future on projects like the philanthropic fund.
The couple described their relationship going forward this way: “We also see wonderful futures ahead as parents, friends, partners in ventures and projects, and as individuals pursuing ventures and adventures.”